The actress talks white supremacy, freezing children, and Turkish Delight
Tilda Swinton eats up her character of Jadis, the White Witch, in The Chronicles of Narnia. She revels in the role. Her perception of Jadis as the ultimate white supremacist was very interesting. She turns her into a Nazi-like character hell bent on domination. Tilda really wanted to turn the traditional idea of the evil witch on its head. In retrospect, I can totally see the supremacist traits in her performance. Tilda was very casual and easy-going during the interview. She had this shocking blonde hair that really added to her excitement about the film.
The cast of Narnia is predominantly young and doing their first film. Did you find that at all challenging?
Tilda Swinton: (Laughs) That's the story of my life. I should be so lucky!
You've done many different types of films. What was your interest in Narnia? It looks like you were having a great time.
Tilda Swinton: It was really easy and I can't quite work out why. Maybe it was my revenge on people who had been unkind to me as a child. But it was very easy and a thrill to freeze up children.
What about that slapping scene with Edmund (Skandar Keynes)?
Tilda Swinton: We rehearsed that for months! I kept saying that I couldn't get it right. (Laughs) He takes a very good slap though.
What lengths did you go to play up the inhumanity of your character? She's unrepentantly evil.
Tilda Swinton: Rather than playing up, it was more a question of playing down. Both Andrew [Adamson, the director] and I shared very early on that neither of us had had been convinced by the cackling, shouting, hot-under-the-collar witches that we'd been exposed to as children. They hadn't frightened us. It occurred to me that since this is not a human witch, this is the epitome of all evil. It's like a free pass with any kind of nonsense you can come up with. It doesn't have to add up. What children, in fact all of us at any age, find frightening is unreliability and emotional coldness. The idea that you can't affect someone, that you can't see where they're coming from and can change tact at any moment.
Did you have any input in the design, the physical look, of your character?
Tilda Swinton: Unfortunately not, but the whole look of the piece...it was clear from the beginning that 85% of the piece would be her whole look. I started working very early with the costume designer and hair and make-up designer on the look of the White Witch. She doesn't really have to do or say much. She has to be iconic and freeze people in twenty pieces. I saw it as a challenge and great adventure to shake up the stereotype of an evil witch, that they're A) ugly and B) dark. I think there's a dishonorable tradition in Hollywood to give the idea, particularly to children, that evil characters are dark.
She doesn't have the traditional black, pointy hat...
Tilda Swinton: And she doesn't look Jewish and she doesn't look like an Arab. I thought it was extremely irresponsible to make her look less than the ultimate supremacist, which is what she is. Make her as Aryan as possible. Apart from being a fantasy film, it's also a historical film. These are second World War children and their father's away fighting fascism. I though she should look like a Nazi. I actually throw in a Nazi salute on the Stone Table.
She's a white supremacist surrounded by an army of non-whites?
Tilda Swinton: You need people to do the dirty work.
How did you get the part of Jadis?
Tilda Swinton: I happened to be in Los Angeles making Constantine and Andrew Adamson asked to see me. We just talked for four hours about this film he wanted to make. I am the only living person in the English speaking world who didn't have the Narnia books as a child. I asked him to tell me the story of the film he wanted to make. He was pretty compelling. By the end of the meeting, I wanted to go to New Zealand and see how he was going to do it.
What was the hook for you? Playing the white supremacist or the double sword action?
Tilda Swinton: I am now an action star, I think. (Laughs) It's what I described, going to meet a filmmaker and talking to him for fours hours and knowing that it can be interesting. That the project is interesting to him and he can make it interesting to me. The idea of being a white supremacist with a little sword action. The idea that it can keep you satisfied for what always ends up being years and years, or however long the shooting schedule is.
The fight scenes are very intricate. How did you feel about doing them?
Tilda Swinton: I thought it was fantastic. I really loved it. I learned to box for that. It's something I'd always wanted to do. I don't know if it'll ever come in as useful, but it was beautiful. It was a wonderful thing to work with the fight directors. They're so disciplined and know exactly how to do it. We did it all ourselves. There was a wonderful back-up team of photo doubles and stunt doubles, because we were on a tight schedule; but we pretty much did everything.
Did you become a fan of Turkish Delight on set?
Tilda Swinton: I don't know whether Turkish Delight is going to go great guns in the United States. Who knows? It's for children, they'll find out what it is.
One of your great strengths in the role was your ability to see the Pevensie's as equals. Jadis does not go easy because they are children.
Tilda Swinton: One of the things I loved was that first scene in the sleigh. The White Witch has to do something that is really difficult for her, which is having to pull off this performance of someone who finds children less than revolting. She has to pretend to be charming and winning and delightful. You can see what an effort it is for her. Our whole idea was that if you stopped the film right there and asked children what they thought; they'd say that Edmund has met a really lovely lady. Beyond that scene, the children are her enemies and need to be destroyed. She has no idea of a sentimental attachment to childhood.
Why is Jadis so angry?
Tilda Swinton: I didn't see her as angry. She's interested in dominating absolutely and is irritated that there is this prophecy that says sooner or later four humans will turn up and make trouble for her reign. She wants to get rid of them fast and it's all going a bit wrong. She's confused and irritated. I don't see her as particularly angry. Have you read ‘The Magician's Nephew'?
Tilda Swinton: I hope they make it. It's a prequel that explains where Jadis came from and how Narnia is created. She's so bad that she destroyed her empire to spite her sister. There's this one deplorable world, which we don't know what it is, that if it's spoken; everything is vanquished and she's the only one alive. She does it to spite her sister. She just wants to dominate. The idea of anybody having anything over her is confusing.
What was your favorite part of the movie?
Tilda Swinton: I love the frozen river scene. I love it when Peter puts his sword in the ice. I also love when Thomolus meets Lucy.
Did you have any thought about C.S. Lewis's take on Jadis or his general opinion of women?
Tilda Swinton: I have to say that I'm not really up on that or a big C.S. Lewis aficionado. I'm reading up on him now. It's always good to do a bit of work after the press junket.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe hits theaters nationwide today and is rated PG for battle sequences and frightening moments.